The plaintiffs will obviously have more to say about the Frey episode. In their response to Penguin’s brief, they write, “Penguin has simply chosen to ignore … the multi-district litigation lawsuit in re A Million Little Pieces in the U.S. District Court … where the district court certified a nearly identical class action.”
Will Pfau v. Mortenson be the test case where these issues finally get argued? There’s no telling. As the University of Toronto’s Stern points out, the vast majority of federal civil suits are settled out of court, so the odds are against a future bristling with legal drama.
If the case does go forward, fans of Mortenson may be disappointed to hear that the defense doesn’t have reciprocal power to demand a look at everything in the filing cabinets of the plaintiffs, 60 Minutes, or Krakauer. Krakauer, for example, is not a party to the suit, and he presumably hasn’t been working with the plaintiffs as they conduct their research to undermine the accuracy of Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools.
Cameron Stracher, a prominent media lawyer who once served as in-house counsel for CBS, feels certain that Krakauer’s reporting will be shielded by the qualified journalist’s privilege, which protects him from being compelled to testify about confidential information or sources.
“Unless Mortenson could show that the information obtained by CBS or Krakauer was highly material to his defense, critical or necessary, and not available from any other source, Mortenson could not compel CBS or Krakauer to testify or provide any documents,” Stracher explained in an e-mail. “It’s the defendant who has to defend the veracity of his story. It’s hard to see how Krakauer’s involvement in the lawsuit would be relevant, unless there was some kind of counterclaim or suit against him.”
THROUGHOUT ALL OF THIS, Mortenson has not been heard from, and I sometimes wonder if he ever will be again—at least as the voluble public figure we knew before his troubles began. During the gloom-filled weekend prior to the 60 Minutes broadcast, I spoke with him by phone for several hours, starting on the night of Friday, April 15, a conversation published as a Q&A on Outside’s website the following Monday. Back then I never would have predicted that Mortenson would still be under wraps at this point.
At the time, I had met Mortenson once, heard him speak once, and read about him. I edited a December 2008 Outside profile of Mortenson and CAI, and (obviously) my instincts and Outside’s fact-checking procedures failed to detect that there might be something fundamentally shaky about his backstory.
When I spoke with Mortenson last April, I threw a Hail Mary by simply dialing his cell-phone number and asking if he would do an interview. He knew by then that 60 Minutes and Krakauer were about to lower the boom, and he was refusing to speak with either Krakauer or CBS correspondent Steve Kroft. (He had agreed to speak with Krakauer but canceled on him Friday afternoon.) I suggested he talk to me, saying that I would ask objective questions based on reporting I’d done that gave me a fairly detailed sense of what was coming his way.